What if Perkins made you pay a dollar every time you wanted to use the bathroom? What if the Shooters cover charge was replaced with a facilities fee for each trip to the toilet?
The consequence? Restlessness. Rebellion. And perhaps, the rise of a hero.
Such is the simple, albeit ridiculous, premise of Greg Kotis' 2001 musical "Urinetown: The Musical," to be produced this semester by the student-run musical theater company Hoof ’n’ Horn and performed in mid-October.
In Kotis’ bizarre but terrifying dystopian future, an extreme water shortage has forced residents of the unnamed town to get rid of private toilets. The mega-corporation known as Urine Good Company has taken control of the entire sewage system, charging high rates for the “privilege to pee.” The punishment for unsanctioned public urination? Banishment to the mysterious “Urinetown.”
Maybe the show’s distinguishing feature as a theatrical work is its open and honest satire of the musical as genre. Junior Andrew Jacobs, producer for the Hoof ’n’ Horn production, explained how the appeal of the show partly came from its irreverent disruption of theatrical convention.
"It’s very Brechtian,” Jacobs noted, referring to the straightforward, fourth-wall-breaking theoretical framework proposed by the German poet and theater practitioner Bertolt Brecht. “It’s poking fun at the art of musicals. To do this show, we need to be over-the-top, crazy and weird.”
The show takes a decidedly ironic stance towards “moralist” musicals like "The Threepenny Opera" and "Les Miserables," which involve more serious critiques of capitalist structures. Yet Kotis pays homage to well-known socioeconomic theory, especially that of the 18th century economist Thomas Robert Malthus. The pretense of the play refers to Malthus' infamous "Malthusian catastrophe," in which the rapidly growing world population is checked by widespread shortage. The musical is so self-aware of the resemblance to this infamous economic prediction, that at one point a character shouts, “Hail Malthus!”
Yet because the show seeks to satirize the entire genre of the musical, the show’s feel and tone shifts radically through the course of the production. Senior Melanie Heredia, who will co-choreograph the show with junior Corinne Wallace, said that she sees specific design opportunities in the show’s varied musical score.
“Because the show parodies a variety of musical genres, it lends itself to different choreographic challenges," she added.
Hoof ’n’ Horn, which has a council of about twenty students dedicated to producing the show, seeks to implement an ambitious technical mission as well.
“We are aiming for a three-leveled set,” said James Hamilton, a sophomore who will direct the show. “I don’t want any gaps in the aesthetic. We’re trying to use every inch of Sheafer [Theater], while still allowing the actors plenty of floor space.”
Hamilton said the show required that actors are emotionally able to step outside the world of the play, even during performance, as part of the Brechtian ideal of a self-conscious and self-deprecating theatrical presentation.
“Actors need to create distance between themselves and their characters,” Hamilton added. “Transitions between scenes will be very open, nothing will be disguised. I don’t want the audience to forget that they are watching a show.”
Urinetown will open in late October. The show runs from the 16th to the 26th, in Shaefer Theater. Tickets available through the box office starting Sept. 15th.